Written by attorney Steven Mark Sweat

Negligent Security Cases in California: Is the Property Owner Liable for Negligent Security?

If you have been assaulted on the property of another person, do you have a claim for damages against the property owner under California Law?

This is an interesting question and one in which there has been some recent developments as far as case law. This can be summarized as follows: The Duty to Protect Against Criminal Acts In Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center, 6 Cal.4th 666, 25 Cal.Rptr.2d 137 (1993), in which an employee of a business in a strip mall was raped in her store during business hours by an unknown assailant, the California Supreme Court established guidelines for determining whether in a given case, a commercial landlord has a duty to take steps to prevent third-party criminal activity on the premises.

Refining its prior analysis in Isaacs v. Huntington Memorial Hospital, 38 Cal.3d 112, 211 Cal.Rptr. 356 (1985), the court rejected the notion that the proper test was the totality of the circumstances without regard to whether there had been prior similar incidents on the premises. Instead, the court concluded that duty is determined by balancing the foreseeability of the criminal act complained of against the burdensomeness of the security measures proposed to prevent that act.

This has made prosecuting such cases more complicated but, not impossible. I have had success prosecuting these cases on behalf of many different clients in many different scenarios. These include: bar fights, bouncer assaults, assaults by other patrons or employees of night clubs, or other businesses. One of my recent cases involved a lady who was renting a storage facility. At the time she rented the storage area, she was advised that the facility had full time, surveillance cameras, working security gates, and an onsite security guard. None of this proved to be true other than the security guard, who clocked in and then left prior to the incident.

The bottom line is that this is a complicated area of the law. You need to retain a competent attorney that can "hit the ground running" and conduct a thorough investigation of the property and its owners. The history of prior incidents and other information will only be discovered through use of professionals. Furthermore, this type of evidence is "fleeting" and the longer you wait, the more chance witnesses and other evidence will be unavailable or lost. For all these reasons you should consult with an experienced California personal injury attorney to know your rights and to investigate the claim, quickly and thoroughly.

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